Thursday, August 14, 2008

Colonial City Slicker

"But you might go further and say that [Benjamin] Franklin was also America's first city slicker."

Jerry Weinberger, "Benjamin Franklin: City Slicker. City Journal, Summer 2008.

It's fun to read another Franklin admirerer, even though Weinberger likens Ben Franklin to Rudy Guliani and his "broken windows" policing. That seems an ideological stretch, but I'll leave it to the historians and biographers to figure that one out.

Franklin in his Philadelphia moments was not just a city slicker but a civic entrepreneur. Weinberger recounts Franklin's inventiveness at generating civic solutions -- whether fighting fires, filling potholes, or helping start U of Penn. Franklin was a distinctive urban, business, political, and civic leader -- building coalitions, negotiating with the opposition, finding middle ground, and showing how to combine self control and self reflection.

Franklin knew how to bring home the bacon from the start in his various roles with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania -- for his own business and for Philadelphia.

A final civic role for Benjamin Franklin was as one of America's first philanthropists. He left his wealth to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia on a time-limited basis (two hundred years) to support young entrepreneurs, public works, and more urban inventiveness -- and hence the Franklin Institutes.

Weinberger's flights of fancy about Merle Haggard and Chicago's White City lost me, but looking at Ben Franklin as a city slicker made Franklin even more compelling as a founding father.

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